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National Weather Service lowers case, won’t SCREAM AT YOU

On Wednesday, May 11, 2016, the National Weather

On Wednesday, May 11, 2016, the National Weather Service switched the format of its forecast reports from all caps to upper- and lowercase. This version generated by the National Weather Service's facility at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton shows the new version. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

It’s a BIG DAY at the National Weather Service’s Upton office. Oops, make that just a big day.

On Wednesday morning, with the written regional weather summary issued at 9:32 a.m., lowercase letters got added in with text that previously would have been ALL CAPS. That goes, too, for the area’s forecast discussion, issued at 9:49 a.m.

That means that “HIGH PRESSURE WILL GIVE WAY TO A COLD FRONT ON FRIDAY” actually gave way to “High pressure will give way to a cold front on Friday.”

The switch-over has been some time in the making, and primarily involved behind-the-scenes updating of code and formatting elements, said Peter Wichrowski, a meteorologist in the Upton office.

The mixed-text rollout also includes public information statements, and other products, such as severe weather warnings, will transition down the road.

Actually, this may be less of a big day for forecasters and more so for those on the receiving end of their text products.

In an April news release announcing the change, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — of which the weather service is a part — gave a nod to the modern interpretation of all caps type. “LISTEN UP,” the release started. “NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORECASTS WILL STOP YELLING AT YOU.”

This, of course, was acknowledging that in today’s “web speak, use of capital letters became synonymous with angry shouting.”

Still, hot-under-the-collar rants played no role in the persistence of all caps. In earlier days of transmitting weather dispatches, the state-of-the art technology was the teleprinter, which had no option for lowercase letters.

Certainly, “the hardware and software used for weather forecasting has advanced over the last century,” the release said, and, indeed, not so long ago NOAA upgraded its supercomputer capacity to 5.78 petaflops.

But, the all caps “holdover was carried into modern times since some customers [of weather service products] still used old equipment,” the release said.

Several times since the 1990s, as advances such as the Internet and email left Teletypes in the dust, the service has proposed the move to mixed-case letters, NOAA said.

It may have taken 20 years or so, but finally “the last of the old equipment that would only recognize” uppercase letters has been phased out.

Still, while the role of the figurative caps-lock may be diminishing, it’s not losing its job completely, as the all caps option can still be used for emphasizing “extremely dangerous situations.”

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